Western Illinois Leathernecks postseason capsule

Senior Dennis Houston tied for the top pass catcher in FCS with 90 receptions. (photo courtesy goleathernecks.com)

Head Coach:  Jared Elliott

Overall Record: 2-9

Missouri Valley Conference Record:  2-6

Biggest Win: While WIU’s 38-35 win at Youngstown State in late September was a thriller, there’s nothing like beating an arch-rival. A month later, the Leathernecks twice erased 15-point deficits to rally past Illinois State for 38-31 win in Macomb.

Most Frustrating Loss: Western staged a fourth-quarter rally and took another in-state rival to overtime. However, WIU’s two-point converion attempt went amiss in a heartbreaking 31-30 loss to nationally ranked Southern Illinois in the Leathernecks’ homecoming game.

Telling stat: While WIU’s passing offense was ranked 10th nationally, its lackluster running game landed at No. 122 of 123 FCS teams.

Returning strengths for 2022: This stands as the great unknown. WIU lost plenty on offense with record-setting quarterback Connor Sampson and his top two targets —  Dennis Houston and Tony Tate — all graduating. Though it spent way too much time on the field, the Leatherneck defense did produce some big plays. The problem was that it gave up far too many chunk-yardage plays as well. The good news is that Darius Joiner, the national leader in tackles returns.

Emerging Star:  Linebacker Greg Benton is poised to star at the position so many Leatherneck legends made famous in previous seasons.

Biggest Shoes to Fill: In addition to the aforementioned offensive stars, WIU will also be without play-making hitter Mike Lawson.

New Year’s Wish List:  Newly hired head coach Myers Hendrickson — a former WIU player and son of ex-Western head coach Mark Hendrickson — can reverse the fortunes of Leatherneck football while facing the daunting task of playing in the nation’s top FCS conference.

Next Up:  Barry Bottino explores Five Burning Questions that face WIU football for 2022.

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